The following is a brief review of Granada Homes rich history.
The Granada Homes site was made possible by the San Antonio River. The River was once more devious than it is now. It had formed a bend which created an island that was first called Galveston Island then Bowen's Island. Later it was known as Central Park. The island was a natural peninsula, a five-acre tract bounded by the river on three sides and on the fourth by the Concepcion Acequia. This is the current site of the Tower Life Building and Granada Homes. Originally (1845) the island was called Galveston Island by the town folk that used it for occasional picnics.
John Bowen, San Antonio's first postmaster, came here in 1840. Later, he purchased the island from Mrs. Maria Josefa Yturri (1845) for $300. Bowen changed the name and purpose of the island when he acquired it. He cleaned out the native trees and made it into a truck farm and park. His wife Mary, an experienced horticulturist from Pennsylvania, planted fruit trees on the west end of the island. On the "island" was the old La Quinta homestead located at 136 Dwyer Ave., which was part of the original Spanish land grant of the Curbelo family. The Curbelos were Canary Islanders. The house became the first United States post office in San Antonio with Bowen as postmaster. John Bowen married the widow, Mary Elizabeth Peacock in San Fernando Church on August 29, 1850. They built a seven-room cottage on the banks of the San Antonio River and raised seven children. The cottage was located on what is now the Lobby of the Granada Homes. Bowen died in 1867 and was buried alongside his brother George on Bowen’s Island. When the San Antonio River channel was changed, their remains were removed to San Fernando Cemetery No. 1. When Bowen died the island passed into the hands of his family members. After leasing the land for several years the family sold the island for $110,000, the year was 1910.
The island was leased in 1870 to John Wolfram, who operated it as a public pleasure resort. It was known as Central Park. It was the scene of the first large outdoor gathering held by Germans in Southwest Texas. The first Volkfest was held in June of 1882 when several thousand Germans attended the three-day affair. The Turnverein, a German Athletic Club also performed there. In 1900 another company leased the island and erected a large amusement hall which included a roller skating rink. Mr. Frank Silva, a former resident of the Granada Homes recalls the days he used to skip school and go to Bowen’s Island with his friends to see the Buffalo Bill Cody Wild West Shows that performed there. Some of the performers and famous productions were: The Nat Reiss Shows, featuring 20 Big Shows, 4 Riding Devices, 2 Military Bands and free acts including Matt Gay and his 102 feet high dive, The Chefalo Loop, and Maximo the Diving Dog.
The amusement hall later became a factory where the Brush Motor Car was produced, making it one of the nation's first automobile factories. The Brush auto was a contemporary to Henry Ford's horseless carriage. The Brush Motor Car was designed by Alanson P. Brush who produced cars from 1907-1912 and was noted for its one cylinder engine, chain drive, wooden frame and wooden axles. Brush previously worked for the Cadillac Company and on October 17, 1902 at the age of 24 gave the very first Cadillac its maiden test drive. In 1910 the United States Motor Company was formed and took control of several Motor Companies including the Brush Motor Car Company. The Brush factory moved in 1910. Later the same year the island became a city market place for several years. Stalls in the Market Place, rented for 10 cents a day. The East end of the Island was known as the Lover's Lane of its day. The property remained in the Bowen family for some 65 years. The heirs of John Bowen sold the property to Woodward & Altgelt in 1910 for $110,000.
The Altgelt family emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1852 and were responsible for founding the City of Comfort, Texas. In 1866 Altgelt built the first house on King William Street and was accorded the privilege of naming it after Kaiser Wilhelm I of Prussia. The area attracted other successful immigrants and Mr. Altgelt took the responsibility of planning the entire neighborhood now known as the Historic King William District. Woodward & Altgelt sold the property to Lafayette Ward, a cattleman from Jackson County. Ward was taught the ranching business by his father and became a leader in introducing Hereford, Brahman, and Jersey cattle to Texas. Ward was a director of the Great Southern Life Insurance Company and moved to San Antonio in 1912. Mr. Ward died in 1923 and his heirs sold the property to Smith Bros. Properties, Inc. for $650,000.
Bowen's Island disappeared in 1926 when the river channel was straightened as a flood control measure. Construction began on the Plaza Hotel (Granada Homes) building during this time as part of a $5,000,000 project by Smith Bros. Properties which included the Tower Life Building. Atlee B. and Robert M. Ayers were hired as architects for Smith Bros. Properties for both buildings and on Wednesday, January 26th 1927 the Plaza Hotel opened its doors to the public. The first Manager of the Plaza Hotel was Jack White, who later served 2 terms as Mayor of San Antonio. The street in front of the Granada was named after him. Jack White was well known as one of the best hotel men in Texas and owned several hotels throughout the state.
Many famous people of the day stayed at the Plaza Hotel including movie stars, sports stars and even the notorious Al Capone. It has been said that Al Capone would use the tunnel that connects the Granada to the Tower life building for quick escapes. Three days after the Grand opening of the Plaza Hotel, there was the formal opening of the Plaza Roof Restaurant. The Grand Ballroom on the 14th floor was known as the Roof Garden. The Grand Ballroom was located across the street from the lobby entrance, which now houses Law Offices. To give you an idea of the caliber of hotel clientele you only have to look at the Menu. The Plaza Roof Restaurant formally opened on January 29, 1927. Caviar Canope and Oyster Cocktail, cream of New Tomatoes Mikado, Medallions of Sea Bass, half Milk fed Chicken on Toast, lettuce and Tomato Bellevue, fancy Ice Cream and Assorted Cakes, Roquefort Cheese and Crackers with a Demi Tasse (a small cup of coffee).
The Hotel was built in two phases. The first phase was the Lobby, Roof Garden, and related facilities, which opened January 26, 1927. The 2nd phase began the same year and was completed in 1928. This phase added all the apartments beyond the freight elevators looking west and the second floor Crystal Ballroom.
Smith Brothers Properties Company created a major real estate boom in 1928 that hit downtown San Antonio,Bowen's Island. Two of the largest retail stores, Montgomery Wards & Company and Sears Roebuck Company established business across the street from the Plaza Hotel. Sears Roebuck occupied the basement and 1st floors of the 35-story Smith Young Tower, now known as the Tower Life Building. The tunnel that connects the Granada with the Tower Life Building still has brass display cabinets along the length of the tunnel that was used to display Sears merchandise. Montgomery Wards occupied the one year old Plaza Garage building on St. Mary's St., one half block south of Villita Street. The two stores employed over 800 people. The Plaza garage was built on the corner of Soledad and Villita Street, a miniature golf course occupied its entire roof. This is where the Riverwalk Plaza Hotel is now located.
The Plaza Hotel, (while under the management of Jack White), published a monthly magazine called the PLAZA PARADE "a Monthly Magazine Devoted to the Interests of the Traveling Public and the “Furtherance of a Better Understanding of the Great Southwest", so says Ms. Etta Martin, Editor and Publisher. During the 1930's, the PLAZA PARADE published a number of articles urging a beautification program on the River. The following paragraph was taken from editorials previously published in this magazine:
"The river can be made the outstanding beauty spot of the world, not excluding Venice. The now unsightly back entrances to stores can be, and we predict will be, more attractive than front entrances. We see it as a gathering spot for the happy populace of the playground city. We see on its waters, boats of the gondola type, manned by picturesque Mexican oarsmen. We see little shops on its banks where typical Mexican products are sold and riverside cafes where fiery Mexican food is served. We see strolling musicians playing and singing ...."
In April, 1936, the Plaza Hotel, in conjunction with the Mexican Business Men's Association, staged the Venetian Night celebration. An evening of entertainment on the banks of the river near the hotel. Films made by Pathe News, Hearst Movietone and Fox Movietone were shown all over the United States. On August 28, 1948, Lyndon B. Johnson was in a runoff with former Governor Coke Stevenson for the United States Senate. The Bexar County and South Texas vote were the keys to the election. In the first primary, Stevenson buried Johnson in Bexar County, 23,471 votes to 11,994 votes, with some 14,595 scattered among nine other candidates. Then Lyndon Johnson came to town, meeting in the dead of the night on one of the bridle paths in Brackenridge Park. There he conferred with bitter local political enemies in a scene illuminated only by headlights. He followed that preliminary session up with a daylong meeting at the Plaza Hotel, where four connecting rooms had been set aside for his disposal. His task, was to get the city and county political machines to merge behind his candidacy. (It has been said by a former Granada resident that “Lyndon Johnson sat in the Granada Lobby with a stack of $5.00 bills, handing one out to each Hispanic that would vote for him”.) When Johnson left the Plaza late that night, the seeds for his subsequent victory had been well planted. With the city and county politicians in his corner, Johnson was able to carry Bexar County in the runoff by 99 votes. Considering Johnson’s win was only the entire election by 87 votes. His success at the Plaza Hotel might be considered a very important step in his political career.
The Plaza Hotel was sold to Hilton Hotel Properties in 1956. In 1960 it was purchased by Domax Management Co., who named it the Granada. Domax Management failed to make timely payments on their new hotel so in January 1964 control of the hotel was passed back to Hilton Properties as settlement for an alleged indebtedness of more than $2.6 million.
In 1965 the Granada received a new Spanish look as artists from throughout the United States were commissioned to create the Spanish decor. Elliot Frey, a noted authority on hotel interior design, developed the entire theme. Symbolic of the friendship between the United States and Mexico, the Villita entrance design centered on busts of President Lyndon B. Johnson and President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, one on each side of the entrance doors. The sculptures were created on commission by Spanish artist Juan Segura in his Florida studio. All that remains of the statues are the pedestals they once rested on. Once windows, the four Spanish arches on the left of the canopied entrance were adapted as planters to frame specimen trees of Texas holly. A clipped boxwood hedge was at the base of each planter. On the opposite side, one arch was a planter while the remaining three framed murals created in the Aztec motif. Artist Beck Young of San Francisco used the ancient Egyptian technique of bee's wax finish to protect the vivid colors. Special lighting effects were installed for night illumination.
In 1966 the Granada was purchased by the current owners, the San Antonio Building & Construction Trades Council from the Hilton Hotels Corporation and converted into apartments for Senior Citizens. The Housing and Urban Renewal Department approved a $2.1-million loan to the Granada Trades Council Housing, Inc. To purchase and remodel the hotel. Tuesday, January 11, 1966 the Board of Directors of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce voted to support postponing impending action to convert the Granada Hotel into a home for the retired until after HemisFair 1968. The vote by the chamber board to urge the continued use of the Granada as a hotel was made at their regular monthly meeting. Chamber President Red McCombs made the following statement: "The chamber has no authority whatsoever to interfere with the actions of private business organizations “However, the chamber board has injected itself into this matter because it is felt the loss of a 430-room downtown hotel at this time is a matter which affects the total community. "With the impending visit in 1968 of 7.2 million visitors during the 184-day run of HemisFair, the problem of providing adequate hotel facilities represents a critical need for San Antonio. To the dismay of many city leaders the union organization that purchased the Granada decided to close the hotel before HemisFair and began renovations.
In July 1968 the newly refurbished Granada Hotel became the Granada Homes. There were only two requirements a person had to meet to live at the Granada. First, you had to be 62 years or older, and second, your yearly income had to fall within certain limits. The maximum annual income for a person living alone was $3,700. For married couples, the limit was $4,500. There were 160 one-bedroom apartments and 90 efficiency apartments. The first Manager of the Granada Homes, Ms. Sylvia Sproat, estimated there were 2,500 applications for the 250 apartments when the Granada opened in 1968. Efficiencies started at $51.50 and $63.50 per month and one bedrooms started at $75.50, $84.00 and $96.00 per month, all bills paid. In 1982 efficiencies rented for $145.00 per month and one bedroom apartments rented for $195.00 per month.
Jan Pendley is the current site supervisor. Today the Granada is home to seniors from all walks of life. What will history say about our generation? Only time will tell!